SYDNEY (JTA) — Malka Leifer has boarded a plane from Israel en route to Australia where she faces 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
Leifer’s departure ends one chapter in a high-profile international saga that captured the attention of both Australian Jews who sought to see her prosecuted and allies in Israel who sought to shield her. The case caused rare tension between Australian Jews and Israel.
Leifer fled to Israel from Australia in 2008 amid allegations that she had sexually abused students when she was the principal at the Adass Yisroel school in Melbourne. In 2014, Australia filed a formal extradition request, but Israeli authorities deemed her unstable and unfit for extradition.
After an investigation showed she was living a normal life, she was rearrested in 2018, and last year, an Israeli panel cleared her for extradition. Earlier this month, Israel announced it would move to speed the extradition process, saying that it had been the “victim to a fraud perpetrated by Leifer and her supporters.”
That fraud, Israeli police have said, included pressure by former health minister Yaakov Litzman to have Leifer declared unfit for trial. Australian Jews protested his appointment as housing minister last year because of his involvement in the case.
In statements on Monday, Australian Jewish leaders praised three sisters who had mounted a public campaign to have Leifer returned to the country to face prosecution. in statements Monday.
“That Leifer was allowed to escape justice for so long was a travesty,” Jeremy Leibler, the Zionist Federation of Australia president, said in one representative statement. He added: “That she is coming is largely due to the tireless efforts of Dassi Erlich and her sisters, as well as their support network. It is they who kept up the pressure and who never gave up. My thoughts are with them tonight, and with all survivors of sexual abuse.”
Former Israeli ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer tweeted that he has been “skeptical” that Leifer would ever be extradited. “But I was then unaware of the heroism and tenacity of @dassi_erlich, Ellie, and Nicole,” he wrote. “I’ve never been happier to be so wrong.”
Leifer’s departure from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport came shortly before the country was due to ground all flights for at least a week to curb the spread of COVID-19. Israel has a high infection rate, while Victoria, the Australian state where Leifer is being prosecuted, successfully eliminated the disease through a grueling months-long lockdown last year.